Think Tank Asks, What Else Works?

Kids playing at Edwin Pratt Park, 2002

Last time, we looked at the aims of the STOP Obesity Alliance, starting with the encouragement of more physical activity on general principles, because of the overall superiority of fitness over unfitness.

The Alliance is in favor of “different approaches” to obesity, one of which is to “redefine success.” Obviously, success can’t be verified and compared unless everybody is on the same page, definition-wise. The group’s literature points out that, while there seems to be no definition of weight-loss success that is both commonly accepted and evidence-based, there does appear to be plenty of room for interpretation:

A growing body of evidence suggests that losing between five to 10 percent of current weight leads to major health improvements… The Alliance recommends promoting the use of a sustained loss of five to 10 percent of current weight as a key measure to judge the effectiveness of weight-reduction interventions.

This seems to mean that everyone needn’t be model-thin or body-builder sleek, because shedding even 1/20 of the poundage can bring a person into the category known as “fit.” It doesn’t say here whether the universal criteria for measurement have been decided on yet, such as what percent exactly, and for how long?

The Alliance believes in encouraging innovation and best practices — but then, doesn’t everyone? They speak of the patients…

… who have been unsuccessful with traditional nutrition and exercise only programs. Currently, individual programs rarely leverage possible best practice models that combine multiple interventions, such as diet, exercise, medication, and behavioral treatment.

So, to diet and exercise as factors, they add medication, which is only appropriate coming from a think tank funded by Big Pharma, in the guise of Sanofi-Aventis, a European-based mega-corporation. And also, behavioral treatment. Does this mean they are willing to consider the possibility that junk food can be as addicting as hard drugs and prepared to endorse comparable treatment, such as long-term residential programs based on the classical 12-step model?

The Alliance also holds that stigmatizing the obese is counter-productive, and weight control is not just a matter of personal responsibility because there are “broader societal barriers.” (Some would say that many of those societal barriers are constructed by the very bureaucracies and institutions that make up the Alliance’s membership.) And, last,

The Alliance recommends a broadened research agenda that examines all of the important factors contributing to the obesity epidemic and how they interact with each other, as well as applied research to address the immediate needs of payers, providers, individuals and others on the front lines.

Let’s go back to a time when the STOP Obesity Alliance was only six months old, and look at a piece called “What should the next President do about obesity?” by registered nurse Sandy Szwarc, BSN:

This alliance was newly created in May by America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), the Surgeon General and a host of powerful obesity-related businesses and interests.

In 2007, the Alliance and The Obesity Society co-hosted a conference which was addressed by Bill Richardson, governor of New Mexico. Szwarc quotes some lines from Richardson:

In New Mexico, I got junk food out of our schools and put physical education back in. I look forward to sharing my vision for change at the conference.

The journalist then went on to do a little research, obtaining (from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) the obesity statistics for New Mexico since the governor took office in 2002. What she found, she characterized as “success only politicians could see.”

In other words, the obesity rates increased. Szwarc says,

Now, if you weren’t a critical thinker, you might think this statement meant that childhood obesity initiatives to remove junkfood and increase PE in schools have been winning successes in New Mexico and have resulted in lower rates of obesity. Read his statement very carefully. That’s not what he said, nor what the facts show.

The first report in 2004 (2003 data) said 20.2% of New Mexicans were ‘obese.’

The 2005 and 2006 reports said 21.8% of New Mexicans were ‘obese.’

The 2007 report said 22% of New Mexicans were ‘obese.’

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “STOP Obesity Alliance Determines Physical Activity May Be as Important as Weight Loss for Achieving Better Health,”, 06/16/11
Source: “What should the next President do about obesity?,” Junk Food Science, 09/19/2007
Image by Seattle Municipal Archives, used under its Creative Commons license.

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